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Does chondroitin sulfate help osteoarthritis?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Chondroitin sulfate can be a very helpful short-term solution for osteoarthritis. It has been shown to relieve pain and inflammation as well as increase mobility. All of these benefits mean that you don’t need to pop as many other painkillers and anti-inflammatories.

A recent systematic review of randomized trials that used chondroitin to improve symptoms of osteoarthritis found beneficial effects that were moderate to large. On average, the findings suggested a 40% reduction of pain scores compared to a placebo -- a highly significant result. On the down side, the studies to date could be criticized because they often provided insufficient information about how they were set up and run, which does not allow for a definitive evaluation.

The Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), published results in 2006 from the first large-scale multicenter clinical trial of chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine for knee osteoarthritis. The study involved over 1,500 patients in centers across the United States, and the supplements did not provide significant pain relief for all groups.

Overall, there was no significant difference between glucosamine or chondroitin and the placebo in the study, or between a combo of glucosamine/chondroitin and the placebo. In a small subset of people with moderate-to-severe arthritis pain, a combo of glucosamine/chondroitin did appear to help alleviate osteoarthritis knee pain better than the placebo did. However, this subgroup was small enough that more study is needed to confirm the findings.

Keep in mind that some supplements do not have a proven track record of success in improving joint function, and supplements in general are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that medications are. If you are interested in glucosamine and chondroitin, speak to your healthcare provider about which brands they recommend.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.